Friday,20 October, 2017
Current issue | Issue 1310, (1 - 7 September 2016)
Friday,20 October, 2017
Issue 1310, (1 - 7 September 2016)

Ahram Weekly

Foreign policy refocussed

Relations with the West are being reassessed, writes Mohamed Abdel-Baky

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Al-Ahram Weekly

The halls of the presidency are bustling with a flurry of preparations for President Abdel-Fattah Al-Sisi’s upcoming foreign tours, beginning with a visit to India on 1 September, followed by the G20 Summit and the UN General Assembly’s 71st session.

According to information obtained by Al-Ahram Weekly a large team of officials from the presidency, the Foreign Ministry and other bodies are putting the final touches to Al-Sisi’s agenda during the G20 Summit and the UN General Assembly.

Official sources speaking to the Weekly say relations with Western nations are being increasingly marred by the double standards applied to Egypt in many EU capitals and in Washington.

“There is appreciation of Egypt’s role in counter-terrorism in leading Western states but at the same time no cooperation is offered to help Egypt find a way out of its economic crisis,” said an official source who requested anonymity. “On the contrary, we’re surprised by statements from Western officials criticising the economic policies of the Egyptian government and attempting to dictate alternatives.”

“For a country like Egypt to be able to play a pivotal role in counter-terrorism, which is the number one challenge globally, it must be internally strong. It has to make its own decisions and cannot accept outside dictates if it is to be able to follow through on the difficult choices involved in its war on extremism and terrorism.”

Discontent within the Egyptian administration reached a peak in June with the Egyptian pound’s sharp drop against the dollar and declining foreign currency reserves. Throughout the crisis Cairo was in close contact with the UK government, lobbying for a resumption of tourist flights — and hence an increase in tourist revenues, an important source of foreign currency — to Sharm El-Sheikh. So far nothing has changed. Earlier this month British tour operators, including Thomson Airways and First Choice, cancelled reservations to Sharm El-Sheikh till the end of 2016 though it had been hoped flights to the resort city would resume on 30 October. The earliest bookings the companies are now taking are for Spring 2017.

Several European nations have also faced terrorist attacks. In France, where the Islamic State carried out a number of attacks in recent months, more than 200 have been killed. The UK Foreign Office has not, however, banned flights to any French city. Nor did it ban flights to Brussels airport where, on 22 March, terrorists detonated a bomb in the departure hall. This stands in stark contrast to its decision to ban British airlines from Sharm El-Sheikh airport.

The UK government’s travel advice for Egypt includes a strongly worded warning about serious terrorist threats. Very different language is used for travel advice to countries such as Belgium, France and Turkey though all three have been the target of terrorist attacks in the last five months.

“There is a high threat from terrorism in Egypt. Terrorists continue to plan and conduct attacks. Further attacks are likely. Most terrorist attacks target the security forces, but it’s likely that foreigners, including tourists, will also be targeted,” reads a statement posted on the UK official website gov.uk.

Relations with several European states are coming under scrutiny as part of the comprehensive government review which seeks to find a way to combat the double standards European capitals apply to Egypt. London is one of the most glaring examples of the discrepancy between official statements and actual policies: While official British statements persist in describing relations with Egypt as excellent the UK Home Office has updated asylum rules, offering the possibility of asylum to members of the Muslim Brotherhood who face “persecution” at home.

On 10 August Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukri criticised the UK for making decisions based on false information.

“What we see coming out of the British Home Office are signals we cannot consider as positive,” said Shoukri. “They make assumptions that have no basis in fact, including that the Egyptian judiciary is targeting the Brotherhood.”

More recently, a number of EU embassies in Cairo have sparked controversy in official and media circles as domestic opposition forces resume contacts with the West through Western embassies in Egypt.

In August the residence of Swedish Ambassador to Cairo Charlotta Sparre was the venue for a meeting attended by Egyptian human rights activists who accused the government of committing “major, unforgivable” rights violations and urged Sweden and the EU to take “a firm stance against human rights violations in Egypt”.

The meeting was attended by rights activist Heba Morayef, an Egyptian-Australian who works at the website Mada Masr, and Hafsa Halawa, head of the human rights and democracy file at the Swedish Embassy. In July EU Ambassador James Moran held meetings with party leaders, parliamentarians and rights activists during the course of which the Egyptian government came under sustained attack.

“EU states, especially Germany and the UK, and the US, have to respect the elected authority in Egypt. They need to realise that the Egyptian authorities came to power on a wave of popular support, the same popular support that removed the terrorist Brotherhood organisation,” says Hazem Mounir, a writer who specialises in international relations.

“The Western media habitually highlights a small number of individuals and portrays them as leading opponents of the regime. Yet at the same time they totally ignore other signs of political opposition in Egypt, from parties inside parliament to leading public figures known for their political opposition.”

Egyptian commentators say it has become clear that the Western media is running an orchestrated, anti-Egyptian campaign, producing programmes and articles attacking the Egyptian government.

Professor of political science at the American University in Cairo, Tarek Fahmi, believes Egypt’s relations with Europe are in need of radical overhaul.

“Currently the Brotherhood is the most significant issue in relations with the European Parliament, followed by the killing of Italian researcher Giulio Regeni,” says Fahmi

“The EU and its institutions will not change their position on the Brotherhood and will continue to exert pressure to include them in any reconciliation framework, something the Egyptian state rejects. We can expect increasingly hostile stances from the EU as the Brotherhood continues to promote its false narrative in EU institutions.”

“Both the EU and Washington will continue to deal cautiously with Egypt, withholding direct support for the Egyptian state because of their negative view of the internal situation.”

One result of this, says Fahmi, is that Cairo will turn east and seek to strengthen its ties with India, China and other states in Southeast Asia until there is a tangible change in EU states’ willingness to cooperate with Egypt.

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